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Kentucky schools could hire pastoral counselors under measure advanced in House committee

The exterior of a stately building.
Jess Clark
/
LPM
The Capitol Annex building in Frankfort.

Public K-12 schools in Kentucky could hire pastoral counselors to provide mental health services under an amended school safety bill.

A measure that would allow pastoral counselors to provide mental health services in Kentucky’s public schools passed the House Education Committee Tuesday morning.

The committee gave its approval to a version of Senate Bill 2, a school safety bill, which included an amendment from Republican Rep. Josh Calloway of Irvington. Calloway’s amendment would add licensed pastoral counselors to the list of personnel that can form part of a school’s mental health services team.

“This just gives us another option as to have more people in the pool to pull from based on the needs of children,” Calloway told the committee.

Kentucky is among a handful of states that offers licensure in pastoral counseling. Under state law, licensed pastoral counselors have to be an ordained minister, have a master’s degree in divinity and a second, more advanced degree with a concentration in pastoral counseling. They are also required to have 250 hours clinical supervision and 1,375 hours of “supervised pastoral counseling,” as well as pass an exam.

According to a state directory, there are 33 licensed pastoral counselors in the state.

Though the committee passed the measure, it faced criticism from Democrats and several Republicans who work in education.

Democratic Rep. Tina Bojanowksi, a Louisville elementary school teacher, called the provision “gravely concerning,” and questioned whether licensed pastoral counselors would be required to have training in trauma-informed care.

Rep. Lisa Willner, another Louisville Democrat, said she worried schools would not be able to get reimbursed by Medicaid for services provided by pastoral counselors, and noted they have fewer training requirements than other types of mental health professionals.

Lexington Republican Rep. Killian Timoney, a public schools educator, said questions needed to be answered about whether pastoral counselors could refuse to provide services to students over “conscientious objections.”

“I think that that's something that we've got to iron out in here … and if that piece is not in here, then this is a Pandora's Box that I think we don't need to go near,” Timoney said. He still voted in favor of moving SB 2 to the House floor, with the amendment.

Louisville Democratic Rep. Josie Raymond objected on the grounds that religion and public schools should remain separate.

“School is school, and church is church,” Raymond said, explaining her “no” vote.

Meanwhile, McKee Republican Rep. Timmy Truett, an elementary school principal, said he could “see the benefit” in allowing pastors to work in schools, adding that he knows many in his own community.

The measure heads to the House floor. Also included in SB 2 are new training requirements for students and staff on suicide prevention. In addition, SB 2 creates a new position called a “school guardian” — veterans and retired law enforcement professionals who could serve as armed guards for public schools.

Abby Piper, lobbyist for the Kentucky School Counselor Association, said her organization was not consulted on the pastoral counselor amendment and does not support it.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.
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